March 15, 2007
I took part in, and really enjoyed, Auto Assault's open beta. So, when honestgamer asked his fellow Hardcore Gamer editors if any of us wanted to review Auto Assault for his web site, I jumped at the chance. At the time, I was in one of those "MMO moods." Everything seemed perfect. I'd quench my thirst for an MMO with AA, and Jason would get a game reviewed for his site that he didn't have the time to play.
While AA was patching itself to the most current version, I decided to do some research. As we all know, in most MMOs the real game starts at higher levels. I found out that the "real AA" starts when you get near level eighty. And so, that was my goal: get to the higher levels when AA truly opens up, and base a good chunk of my review on that. Doing this would be no small task, but having enjoyed the open beta and having a good bit of time on my hands, I decided that I was up to the task.
It's been four months since I installed AA, and I just reached level twenty with my main character today (3/6/07). Obviously, I never obtained my goal of getting to level eighty. In most MMOs I usually solo 'til I can't solo no more. Since I had such a hefty goal set for myself in AA, however, I decided to team up with other players as much as possible -- not once did this happen. The player base is so low that I never ran into someone else my level who wanted to "convoy."
Before you go thinking that it takes forever to level up, I must state that I haven't played it in a good month and a half. Not having other people to play with discouraged me from playing. While you can solo quite successfully in AA, going through several maps without seeing another player makes you wonder what exactly you're paying fifteen dollars a month for.
And there it is: Auto Assault is so barren of other players that it isn't really an MMO anymore.
It's not AA's fault. I blame the PC gaming community. Almost every time an MMO comes along that isn't Tolkein-esque, it dies an agonizingly horrible death. Face it: PC gamers aren't the type of people who are willing to give something new a try. They know what they like, and either hate everything else, or are too scared to try something new. I'm sure that AA scared the crap out of most traditional PC gamers. There're no elves, dragons, dwarves, magic missiles or Frogloks, just vehicles and lots of fire power!
There is a story to AA, but it's fairly typical for any post-apocalyptic game: man gets in over his head with technology, there's a war, a great collapse, man attempts to put things back together, some embrace technology, some embrace organic systems, some embrace neither and all three factions dislike each other. There is plenty of story fed to you in-game, but thankfully it's just flavor text for quests and can be skipped.
There are three races to choose from, each having four classes to pick from (all classes have a male and female type). While these classes vary in title from race to race, they are all essentially the same class. The 'Front Line Combat' is your standard "tank," 'Support and Indirect Combat' is akin to other MMOs’ “healer” and "downbuff" classes, 'Command' is a mix of “paladin” and “summon” classes and 'Special Ops' rounds out the crew as the stealth-styled class.
Each class also drives a specific vehicle type, ranging from motorcycles to tanks and everything in between. Along the way you'll be able to "trick out" your vehicle with spoilers, trim and the like. Finding paint cans will enable you to give your ride a jazzy new color. And, of course, every few levels you'll be able to upgrade to a newer vehicle.
Whether you buy a new vehicle or craft one yourself is up to you. AA has an incredibly complex crafting system (that any class can partake in). Well, it's complex for those who understand it, and stupefyingly confusing for those of us who gave up trying to figure it out after a few hours. If you do make sense of it, at higher levels you can make any item that your heart desires.
AA's combat is much more involved than most MMOs. Your main turret weapon locks on to baddies and only requires you to be in range. Your front weapon only shoots straight, though, and requires you to line up your shots. There are also melee weapons that do damage when you ram into an enemy. Because most enemies have similar weapon set ups, where you are in battle actually matters. AA's combat plays like Twisted Metal turned RPG.
There are tons of quests to complete in AA, almost too many. Most of them are "kill this many bad guys" or "go talk to this guy and bring me back his response" quests. Almost all will nab you a nice bit of experience. The problem is that there is more experience to be had in quests than there is just wondering around killing things. That’s great if all you want to do is quest. Unfortunately, AA does not reward the player who enjoys exploring and killing stuff. The focus is on quests, and you're much better off if you stick to them.
The quests themselves are intuitive in nature. You can attempt several at once, and switching a quest to "active" will display where to go on your map. It will also put a waypoint arrow at the top of your screen. Just follow the arrow and you'll end up where you need to be. When you get there, the arrow will point you to exactly who you need to talk to or kill. While this speeds things up, it also kills the sense of exploration and discovery that most MMOs pride themselves in.
If you're not one that enjoys travel, then AA will get old very quickly. A large portion of your play time will be spent making your way to and from quests. There is a drop ship that you can pay to come pick you up, but it will only take you to certain towns. If the location you need to access is not on the list, then you're in for a drive. Most MMOs have a lot of long treks, but most don't make you travel them more than once. The way AA's map system and quests are set up, there is a lot of back-and-forth travel to places you've already been for lower level quests. This can get old very fast.
AA's green/grey/brown color scheme doesn't help matters any. Sure, the game is set in a post-apocalyptic future, but does the future always have to be so visually dull? Maybe you've never thought about it, but one of the reasons that World of Warcraft is so popular is its rich and bright color pallet. When you're playing a game that requires hundreds of hours of your time, the graphics need to keep your attention or you'll lose interest out of visual boredom.
While the concept of a vehicle-based MMO is definitely different, it presents a unique problem: the juxtaposition between playing a game that takes a serious time investment and controlling a fast-moving vehicle keeps your brain in a constant state of flux. Are you playing an action-driving game or an MMO? You're moving and killing things at action game speed, yet it still takes hours to level up and really accomplish things.
So what's the final verdict on AA? That's a tough one, honestly. It's difficult to judge a game that would definitely play better given a much higher player base. If there were more players, some of the things that bothered me about AA would've been less significant factors. While the player base is small compared to most MMOs, it is still very strong. I ran into several high-level players who were more than willing give me better items at no charge, and not once did I ask for these items.
Bottom line? If you're sick of Tolkien-inspired MMOs but still need your fix, Auto Assault is worth a look. Yes, it has its problems, but it's also traversing completely new territory for MMOs (Everquest once traversed unknown territory, and now we have World of Warcraft and Guild Wars; they would be nothing if EQ hadn't cut its teeth trying new things). It won't be for everyone, but if AA grabs you, it probably won't let go.
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